Donald Trump, JFK and Prince Charles were all fans of the decadence of Palm Beach but there's one hotel where you can get away from the bustle
Palm Beach has had its fair share of celebrity, luxury and historic scandals
Eau Palm Beach Resort, a 20 minutes drive from the centre, is a world away
A 42,000-square-foot award-winning spa proves to be pièce de résistance
If Donald Trump actually succeeds in winning the Presidency of the United States, Mar-a-Lago, his palatial 125-room estate – a Xanadu straight out of the Arabian Nights – in Palm Beach, Florida, America's Riviera for the rich and famous, where he has lived for the past 30 years, will become his Winter White House.
Just like President Kennedy before him, who made the Kennedy compound on Palm Beach's North Ocean Boulevard his Winter White House, whenever possible, Trump will make a retreat from the cold, harsh spotlight of Washington and find solace and relaxation in the hot, humid, pleasurable, fairy-tale world of Palm Beach.
In fact, he is already doing just that; escaping to Palm Beach for golf and seclusion amid all the swaying palms and the opulence whenever he can snatch the time in between the hurly-burly of the primaries and the rough and tumble of the debates
But although Trump is technically a Palm Beacher, and in 1995 turned part of Mar-a-Lago into a private club for locals who are sufficiently well-oiled to come up with the $150,000 membership, and $11,000 annual dues, and married his third wife, Melania there in 2005, he remains a loner and not a visible part of the fabric of the world's most elite community, the 12-mile long island which Henry James once dubbed, 'Vanity Fair in full blast.'
Just hours after I arrived in Palm Beach for the first time in five years, I was catapulted into the heart of Henry James' Vanity Fair in full blast.
First, cocktails at HMF, the tapas restaurant of the venerable Palm Beach hotel, The Breakers, which is named HMF after Henry Morrison Flagler, the Standard Oil industrialist who built the first railroad to Florida, and en route for Miami became captivated by the marshy, swampy island of Palm Beach and resolved to turn it into a playground for his fellow billionaires, their cohorts and their consorts.
Tonight, HMF is in full swing, with a group of classic Palm Beachers at one table sipping Bloody Marys (invented in Palm Beach specifically for the Woolworth heiress, Barbara Hutton) the men in the Palm Beach uniform of slacks and navy blazers, and the women in bejewelled kaftans, their hair arranged into air-tight helmets.
At another table, a group of glittering young Florida blondes with gleaming white capped teeth, their figures honed to perfection are downing Mai-Tais and taking selfies of one another underneath the vast ornate chandelier, and the vaulted ceiling.
On discovering that the HMF kitchen has now closed, all of us, the classic Palm Beachers and the Florida blondes make the trek together to Cucina Dell'Arte on Palm Beach's main thoroughfare, Royal Poinciana Way.
At this time of night, Pizzas are the only fare, but we are far from being the only customers. Apart from a gaggle of Russian beauties who refuse the pizzas but gyrate sensuously to the music in unison, the life and soul of the party is a quintessential Palm Beach billionaire in grey slacks, a white shirt and a blue blazer, and who is clearly worse for wear.
Within moments, he has offered to buy the entire restaurant Dom Perignon, and does, then fixes on a particularly tall, leggy brunette, and within moments leaves the restaurant entwined with her.
'Pity,' a local Palm Beach girl whispers to me, 'Last week when he was in here, he spent $3,000 on Dom Perignon for everyone, then tipped the waitress $1,000.'
Classic Palm Beach, but I didn't bat an eyelid, nor did she. After all, Palm Beach is and always was the home of excess, sex, scandal and more excess.
Despite their Catholic pedigree, the Kennedys brought their fair share of scandal to Palm Beach; both Joe Kennedy and Jack routinely sunbathed in the nude, David Kennedy, Jack's nephew and Bobby's son died of a drug overdose in Palm Beach's Brazilian Court and William Kennedy Smith was accused of raping a local girl at the Kennedy compound. During the subsequent court case at which we was acquitted, no less than 19 Kennedy family members, including JFK Jnr turned up to support him.
Then there was the steamy divorce of publishing heir, Peter Pulitzer and his wife, Roxanne, whom the tabloid press dubbed, 'The strumpet with a trumpet,' after she revealed that she played the trumpet to communicate with the spirits.
Scandals abound in Palm Beach, and so do the big names; David Bowie and Iman rented a mansion on the island one season, Rod Stewart still lives here in a yellow house on South Ocean Boulevard and sometimes dines at Boulud in the Brazilian Court, and Ivana Trump spends a month here every winter.
Long before he married Princess Diana, Prince Charles visited Palm Beach and was rumoured to have been romantically involved with local jewellery designer, Helga Wagner, and John and Yoko bought a mansion at 720 South Ocean Boulevard – but only after Yoko had shown photographs of the mansion to a psychic who then deemed that the karma was positive. John often said he planned to retire there, but was murdered later that year.
Disgraced financier, Bernard Madoff lived in an 8,800-square-foot Palm Beach mansion and from there bilked a number of locals of their fortunes. And louche businessman, Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew's friends, reportedly used his Palm Beach mansions as a magnate for girls he wanted to woo.
There seems to be no end to the drama and the decadence, the scandals and the stories swirling around Palm Beach.
Which is why – this time around – I opt to spend my Palm Beach holiday in very different, more peaceful surroundings; Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa, an elegant, luxurious property in neighbouring Manalapan, just 20 minutes away from Palm Beach, but which might as well be on another planet.
As I drive up the driveway, arriving at the vast Mediterranean style hotel, there is a sense of light and freedom, of expansiveness, and once in the lobby, there are imposingly beautiful chandeliers, classical music in the background, champagne is on offer at check-in, and accents of teal green and elegance are everywhere.
My suite overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is, in fact, so close to it that I sleep with the windows open, lulled by the waves lapping back and forth beneath.
On my terrace, an egg-shaped chair swings from the ceiling, the boundless sea is close enough to touch, and as soon as I can, I am on the lush private sandy beach below, which is empty, appears to stretch for miles and seems as if it is the beach of a secluded tropical island not one in Florida at all.
The sand is powder perfect, and so is the tranquil adult pool, where servers bring delicate glasses of complimentary smoothies at intervals, and the menu includes salsa with plantains, and conch fritters.
Apart from the beach and the pool, and my spectacular Jonathan Adler-designed suite, the pièce de résistance of Eau Palm Beach is the award-winning 42,000-square-foot spa, one of the most spectacular in America, but which is unlike any other.
First of all, there is the wishing well, filled with floating candles. The pretty spa manageress hands me one of them, lights it, tells me to make a wish, then places it in the well, and together, we watch as the flame courses up towards the ceiling, along with my wish.
Then there is The Self-Centered Garden, a secret paradise with lounges and hanging chairs, massage benches and fountains, spiritual, yet simultaneously sensuous.
The fitness facility is impressive, but I am now so relaxed and content that I give it a miss, and instead, accept the offer of a pink iced cupcake from one of the 'Spa Fairies.'
Although I am lured by the beach and the pool, I can't help stopping by the fire-pit outside the hotel and whiling away the time by roasting marshmallows in the flames.
And on another day, after dreaming away the hours by the pool, I gorge on a lobster roll at Eau's Breeze Ocean Kitchen. And the next day, Florida Snapper at Angle, the hotel's more formal dining room.
One morning, I luxuriate in the spa's romantic Red Flower Hammam, which ends in me being doused with orange quince mist, then cardamom amber oil and tangerine fig butter. And in the evening, in the lobby, I listen to a classical concert from a string quartet. Then fall asleep to the sound of the waves once more.
In short, my time at Eau Palm Beach is akin to floating upon an ocean of serenity, elegance, luxury and peace.
And all so near to Palm Beach and Mr. Trump. Yet so very far…